People will pay twenty euros for a DJ but they won’t pay ten for a live band.”
Berlin’s own garage punkers SNØFFELTØFFS, made up of Florian and Julian, are looking forward to releasing their EP, Female Dreams, on April 26. With a sound they term “Lo-Fi Hi-Fi Shit-Fi-Garage,” SNØFFELTØFFS is in the vanguard of a group of bands that are bringing back the urgency and guts of live performance. This is not something recorded by a depressed, skinny-legged hipster alone in a bedroom and released on Tumblr. Florian plays bass guitar, while pounding on modified drum kit that he plays with his feet, while Julian focuses on vocals and lead guitar. These specs are just on paper, because on stage they change places, switch instruments, and go all over the place. SNØFFELTØFFS have a sixties-influenced garage sound that owes a lot to the BLACK LIPS, JACUZZI BOYS, and a bit of the 13th FLOOR ELEVATORS and THE MODERN LOVERS. NOTHING BUT HOPE AND PASSION sat down to talk to them about kazoos, the addictive quality of live music, and being the only locals in the Berlin garage rock scene.
How did you guys first meet and start playing music together?
JZ: It was ten years ago.
FO: We are from the same area, we grew up next each other.
JZ: We grew up Frohnau, we went to different schools but we had mutual friends. We talked about playing in a band together but we always had other ones going on. Then I moved to Vienna one and half years ago, and I just moved back to Berlin, so we officially started.
FO: Yeah, and last year, both of us, we broke up with our girlfriends-
JZ: Don’t say that!
FO: -and we were just kind of like, frustrated, drinking every day, I still had a rehearsal space but my band didn’t really exist at the time. So we just decided like “Hey, let’s try this” and started writing songs for real.
JZ: When I came in July to work in Berlin, we started to write songs seriously, and we locked ourselves in the studio for eight weeks and got these songs down. Then we recorded the EP straight away, then we played a three shows in Berlin and things just kind of got off the ground. Now we are going to record an album soon.
So what were your inspirations for picking up your instruments? Besides boredom?
FO: When I was eight or nine I started to get into New Metal. I wanted to play an instrument and my parents made me play acoustic guitar. The things is, I always wanted to play bass. I’m pretty good at guitar as well, but I started playing bass when I was thirteen, and that was when I had my first band.
JZ: I grew up in a family with musical instruments. I started playing piano when I was five. Then I started to play guitar on my own, I play cello in between. I always hated the whole orchestra thing where you couldn’t do what you want, you had to follow the leader. Then I played in the school band but that didn’t’ work out really well. Because I got kicked out.
FO: He’s trouble…
You were kicked out of the school band?
JZ: Almost every rehearsal, because I always played around. Then there was when I was thirteen or fourteen, a bassist was leaving a friends band, they asked me if I wanted to play and that was that. Then when I was seventeen a band from England moved to Berlin and they were looking for a bassist, so I stopped going to school and played with them for a while.
JZ: THE MICHELLES, they don’t exist anymore. There was this time, where all these bands that weren’t successful in Britain, came here, Germany especially. Around 2007 or 2008.
So the other band were groups you were joining and this the first group you guys have founded?
JZ: It’s totally new. It’s the first band I ever started. I play guitar now, and I sing, that’s a new challenge, I never really sang before. I’m really happy it’s the best band I’ve ever had working wise. Since it is only two guys, if there are arguments it’s really easy, either yes or no.
FO: Over the last ten years we’ve learned to really deal with each other and we have some tension from time to time but I think that’s part of the creative process of writing songs actually. Arguing and fighting all the time. [laughs]
It’s probably easier with two that it would be with a larger group.
JZ: Working on a song, for me, it’s finished, then I bring it to the rehearsal and play it and he’ll say “Let’s add this” and it’s always better. It’s also the other way around, when he has an idea I can start to play it, it’s always maybe yes, maybe no, it’s fun.
So on the track there’s a kazoo and an organ? Who plays what?
FO: We both play the kazoo onstage. We’ve thought about switching to the blues harp.
JZ: Mainly kazoos live because those are fun for the people to see. Basically no one knows what this is. It’s a really easy instrument and you can make it out of anything, old toilet paper rolls or a cigarette pack. I play the organ on stage. We have the bass notes on it, he is playing the guitar then. We switch instruments. Which is, again, a good idea to have that onstage. I like that myself, bands that switch instruments on stage. Nobody does that anymore, it’s really easy.
What do you think is good about it, switching instruments?
JZ: Maybe for the audience to see that they can play anything.
FO: To show people it’s not that hard to play an instrument. If you sit down and spend a few months practicing, you can learn basic guitar.
JZ: It’s good because we have the same equipment onstage as a big band, enough for a five piece band. We never thought about it before, but people come up to us after and tell us they enjoyed it, it keeps it fun, not playing the same thing over and over but moving around.
SNØFFELTØFFS: “You can’t play an instrument? So what, just play live!”
You’re the first Berlin band I’ve interviewed. What are some positive and negative things about the music scene in this city?
JZ: We are actually the only people…in our whole scene, the Berlin garage scene, that are actual Berliners. Even the German people, they are not from Berlin. The bad thing about Berlin is they don’t have the typical music scene like other cities. Musicians are moving to Berlin to make music, but it’s a bad thing, if you aren’t already famous. I saw this when I lived in Vienna, people will pay twenty euros for a DJ but they won’t pay ten for a live band.
What about the rapid changes that are happening in Berlin, gentrification and so forth?
JZ: In some ways it’s good, new ideas and new perspectives come into the city. Maybe just the garage scene changed-
FO: There is no garage scene in Berlin!
JZ: I mean, we played this really fancy show in December, at the King Size Bar in Friedrichstrasse, that was put on by VICE and Noisey.
FO: You could tell, people were really into it. They don’t understand it, but they enjoyed it.
JZ: They’ll never buy your CD, but it’s cool to do something outside of the system in Berlin. They normally play electronic music there, and the bartenders were really happy with what we were playing.
What do hope and passion mean to you?
FO: Sticking to the stuff you like without caring about what other people think.
JZ: Passion is, for me, to make music. I know I won’t make enough money in the future to pay for everything, but it’s what I want to do. I never want to get forced by anybody to do something.
FO: Free in liberty and in mind.
JZ: This kind of hippie shit, but it’s true. You have to find this mix: do this passion thing, do what you want to do in the moment, but also think about the future too.
FO: You have to make ends meet in the future.
JZ: So not like the people that sit around all day and think they are great musicians but they never get out. I always hated these bands, they rehearse so much, but they never get out. This attitude is missing, they want to do this type of music but they don’t do anything with it. I mean, we are getting nervous over the last few weeks because we haven’t had a show in a while. We’re finally playing a show tomorrow. The main reason for me to do music is to play live.
FO: That’s for both of us. This punk rock attitude, “You can’t play an instrument? So what, just play live!”
JZ: And if people like it, even better.
Is it pretty addictive? Playing live?
FO: Yeah, our first show at White Trash, where we became headliners because the main band didn’t show up. That was a great show, so many people came up to us and congratulated us, and our friends got see what this band is actually doing.